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November Harvest

The squirrel scrambled up the screen barely finding any claw purchase at all.  It glared at me through the polished glass and screen wire, with its un-worded accusation:  Where is my food? What’s wrong with you?  I sat useless, not serving either myself or the small accusatory beast, lost in remembrance.

What came back was a 2002 Roanoke valley November having bought a pretty little row house that set back from the street secreted behind a massive row of pink azalea bushes.  I managed to buy the old residence when the time was right and moved in trying to prove that I could do it on my own.  It was a small triumph every month writing the check, addressing the bank envelope and popping it in the mail, a testament to my independence.  But then came the rest of the story.

When the furnace quit, there was no way I could get it fixed.  My response to the problem was to search the internet for a log splitter, a little one that could operate off a portable generator, right in the living room close to the fireplace.  That would let me feed the fire conveniently.  The only problem then was to find logs that might be split.  I had already found the perfect Stihl chain saw, a small one that I could woman-handle.

The early net was rife with advice on how best to use a chain saw without suffering personal mayhem.  My city lot was deep and heavy with mature second growth timber that could be harvested to keep a person warm.  I set about doing it.  But as it played out, cutting them down was a scary proposition.  I talked my son Dale into helping me fell one that was way too close to the house.  We snagged a branch with a rope and urged the sawed tree to fall in the desired direction.  It worked, thank God, and ended up on the ground without loss of limb or life.

Dale brought his monster lumberjack saw to bear on the situation, and I ended up with a whole collection of split-ready logs stacked next to my fireplace.  I set to splitting the rounds and feeding the hungry fire.  It was operating a citified situation as if it were a countrified one.  I worried about having to cut the next tree, but shouldn’t have.  Fortune took care of the quandary in the form of a neighbor’s great poplar tree landing on my bedroom roof during a windstorm.  It didn’t break through, and even if it had, it wouldn’t have clobbered my head since I had gotten up and gone to brew something warm in the kitchen.  Event-uality took care of me all around, and when the aggressing neighbor came over the next day offering his State Farm information, I smiled and turned him away.  I asserted that if he would just give me his tree, all would be forgiven.  Dale and his saw paid another good-son visit and soon the entire tree sat in 24” split-ready lengths on my side of the property line.  My splitter worked like crazy, and soon the tree was history.  I began rolling the second tree, one log at a time, into the front door and onto the hearth for splitting.  It felt wonderful making my way through the winter without a furnace.

The bank was happy to take almost all my money every month.  It didn’t care that there was hardly anything left for food.  I bought rice and beans that when cooked together made what was supposed to be complete protein.  But I missed meat.  Hypoglycemia was something that couldn’t be ignored.  I had to be careful about how I handled carbs, and needed some actual protein.  The place was over-run with Eastern Grey Squirrels, smaller than West Virginia’s red ones, but fat and healthy, scrabbling up and down all the oak trees in our neighborhood, searching for and hoarding the acorns that dropped in endless staccato profusion.

The fluffy tailed rodents seemed to be a reasonable answer to my quandary.  I had hunted their red cousins in West Virginia, even skinned, gutted, and dismembered them.  They were edible food.  But this was Roanoke City in Virginia.  The squirrels were surely protected by metropolitan ordinance.  And besides, I had no rifle.  Even if I obtained one, the first shot would have brought the municipal keepers of the peace down upon my offending shoulders.  If I were to harvest the meat from my trees it would have to be with a Have-a-Heart trap.

Ace Hardware filled the bill.  The traps came in several sizes.  I picked one that would accommodate local beasties and packed it home for some small game hunting.  It was a three-dimensional rectangle of woven wire with one end secure and the other end a spring loaded one-way door.  The entrance was propped open, allowing access to a bit of enticing bait, that when grabbed released the mechanism that held the portal ajar.  The door snapped shut with the creature inside, its mouth full, and determined to get out at all costs.  That wasn’t happening.

The first squirrel I caught was a cat.  It was pissed, disgusted at me for having made him spend his night of pussycat foraging inside a wire cage.  I let him out.  No harm done, but he was not likely to come visiting again.  The very next night netted a real squirrel.  Success!  I took the caught critter inside and puzzled over how to get it out and into the frying pan without getting bitten.  This was different from shooting a live animal and rendering it instantly docile.  That squirrel had teeth—big ones.  What to do?  I filled the downstairs bathtub.  When it was near full I set the cage down into the water and fled.  I couldn’t bear to watch the little creature fight for breath.  I stood in the kitchen and cried.  Several minutes later I crept into the death room and retrieved my game. It was awful.

I didn’t hesitate, or I would have ended up wasting my squirrel and his dear precious life.  The least I could do was to make him part of mine, however fraught with remorse.  I separated his little body into all of its parts, dusted them with seasoned flour, and simmered them, bubbling in oil, in my iron skillet.  I watched the smooth muscle crisp into something tasty and crunchy, hoping it had been worth it.  Spoonsful of peas and carrots balanced the feast, and there was a meal.  I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it was a way to stay alive.

Several grey squirrels succumbed to my Have-a-Hart until some trespasser stole the trap.  I asked around the neighborhood, and nobody confessed to the larceny, but my logging agreement neighbor, having passed the story on to a big-game hunting friend, came back with an offer to share some of last year’s killed, frozen, and freezer-dried booty.  I accepted with a modicum of grace and managed the rest of the season with carbohydrates in peaceful balance.

Twenty years later, having landed in a senior housing apartment that doesn’t allow bird-feeders due to the mess, I am haunted by frightful squirrel recollections.  The guilt oppresses as the memories replay: squirrels drowning in my tub.  I must pay for my sins, and how better than arranging a daily platter of seeds and cheese and dried fruit and placing it out on my little balcony for a family of Cincinnati squirrels to squabble over.  They see me inside the siding-glass door and wonder if I can be trusted.  I can’t.  I may look like a nice old lady who hands out munchies to good little rodents.  I’m not starving, but if I were—there’s always the squirrels.

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Nostalgia

It was again that time of year.  The fall color had had a go at confounding all eyes.  Those leaves had danced down through the tangle of tree limbs and settled in to become food for future canopy, where birds would build nests and raise demanding chirpers of like feather.  It was a good time to go back to visit Dale in his cozy West Virginia abode, where once his dad and I had set up housekeeping in an abandoned cabin and begun a family.  Dale and Chris, his wife, who loved him enough to undertake this wilderness sojourn, had decided to follow his parent’s example.  Dale grew up in Texas and California but never forgot his green hills home, his favorite song always John Denver’s “Country Roads.”  It made sense that he return to find his perfect mate.  Chris, like Dale, had been born in these hills, but she had stayed put.  Chris was good at popping out babies, but even better, she enjoyed being with them, actually spending time in the richness of engagement with their play.  Her favorite pastime was teaching small persons to illuminate coloring books, play with their dolls, roll their Tonka Trucks, and read their stories.  In another lifetime, Chris would have been a genius educator.  But in this lifetime, it is we, every one of us, who are gifted with having Chris as part of ours.

It was a good time to visit, to go back and remember those early days, to see the linoleum peeking out around the edge of the kitchen floor, where we had chosen that pattern from Giebel Hardware’s offerings and rolled it out over the oak flooring and it became our thoroughly modern place to cook meals and wash clothes.  Paint colors, chosen from the linoleum’s color palette covered the old walls, making the room shine and suggest maybe we had an eye for décor.  Grey, white, red, and black in intersecting diamonds inspired that old room to a life of its own.

In our cabin, each room blossomed.  The nursery glowed as baby chick yellow, with the floor a washable pattern of pink, blue, and white baby building blocks strewn across a grey marbled substrate.  The marriage bedroom took on the blue of a summer sky, the living room verdant like a green grass meadow welcoming any who would cavort through its blades and blossoms.  The one-time hay shed became a home.  My letters describing our interior refurbishing so inspired my Aunt Judy that she bought organza curtains which she dyed to match every room’s description.

That day those refreshed color choices remained even as when we first coated the old walls.  It was a Yankee-frame house, one built with no vertical studs leaving space where insulation might be secreted in between them to keep cold at bay.  Every wall was a row of vertical 1x planks covered with asphalt siding outside and wallpaper inside.  It was verrrrrry cold.  On freezing days inside moisture condensed and followed gravity, forming crystals as it went, to make of every peripheral wall a sheet of ice.  It was a frightening place to raise little ones.  Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it.  It’s a good thing that ignorance allows us so many lively adventures.  Otherwise life would be bland, and we would die without having yet lived.

Nostalgia must soften those memories that hide in the crevasses of the past, making them almost palatable in between the shadows of remember-whens.  It was surely nostalgia that led me to visit Dale and Chris that November day, with the leaves already having given up and the snow just a promise to arrive on the tail of the North wind.  Every visit to their domicile summoned murmurations of recollections.  There were ugly ones to be sure, but they seemed to draw back, pressing their coquettish cousins to the fore, allowing only good times to be revealed.  The sad were pleased to relinquish light in celebration of the happy.

There was plenty of time to linger after my sausage and gravy breakfast, nursing my cup of still warm coffee.  Dale had left to deliver mail.  It was cringe worthy to see him depart in his four-wheel-drive vehicle, a special edition Jeep that seat’s its driver, like a Brit, on the right side granting access to road-side postal boxes.  I knew he would brave every brutal muddy hollow on his route in order that the mail will get through.  He was one of our modern heroes, appreciated by the people who live in those forgotten places.  For many, he is their only connection with the outside world of people and climes that reach out via postage stamp.  Those patrons are not forsaken.

Eventually I lace up my hikers, head outside to climb my favorite hills and enjoy their discrete and separate views.  Each has its own vision, saved for when I come again to scale its crest and ask, “Remember me?”  I feel the stretch tugging leg muscles that remind me I am alive and a climber of hills and a celebrator of what difficult ascent can achieve—an honest prayer.

And now it is time to sing.  This is the only place where I can vocalize with my whole heart, true and free.  No one can hear me, so I can bare my throat to the sky.  “Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby.  Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue, and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.  Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me, where troubles melt like lemon drops away above the chimney tops. That’s where you’ll find me. Somewhere over the rainbow, birds fly over the rainbow, why then oh why can’t I?”  (Yip Harburg)

Next came some trudging along a lateral crest and then another stop for “When you walk through a storm hold your head up high, and don’t be afraid of the dark.  At the end of a storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark.  Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain though your dreams be tossed and blown.  Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart, and you’ll never walk alone.  You’ll never walk alone.” (Richard Rogers)

I had called to the clouds and they came scudding across the sky dragging the wind after them in merry gusts.  I sang back to the wind proclaiming “I love you truly, truly dear, life with its sorrows, life with its tears, fades into dreams when I feel you are near, I love you truly, truly dear.” (Al Bowlly) That old wind’s brave retort circled ’round to have my back, while the gusts and I marched the cliff-side’s rim.

I sought refuge in a copse of cedars, imagined an organ accompaniment, and sang, “I know a green cathedral, a shadowed forest shrine, where leaves in love join hands above to arch your prayers and mine.  Within its cool depths sacred, the priestly cedars sigh, and the fir and pine lift arms divine unto the pure blue sky.” (Hahn/Johnstone)

There were lots of other songs.  I was full to bursting with them, wanting to give blessing to the hills and the sky.  I couldn’t head back without a verse of “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.”  It was a time to stop and thank the wind and the sky for being there and for sharing my song.  That meant singing all the verses I could remember, however imperfectly.  “We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we’ve first begun.”  (John Newton) The wind didn’t have a care, but for me the singing was done.  I had sung myself plumb out.

It was a flat trek along the river to the cabin, and I was looking forward to some lunch and revisiting the coffeepot.  It felt good to climb the front steps with my achy legs.  They were grateful to be home and looking forward to a spell of rest.  It had been too long since I had climbed my West Virginia hills.  While on the highest one, the best, I had sung the state song “Oh the West Virginia hills, how majestic and how grand with their summits pointing skyward like the Prince Emanuel’s land.  Is it any wonder then that my heart with rapture fills when I stand once more with loved ones on those West Virginia hills?” (Engle/King) Emotion gripped my throat, a poignant memory, one never to be forgotten.  Every time I hear that song, the teardrops gather to ask, “Will she cry?”  Most often she will.

When I opened the front door, I was startled to see the front room full of hunters gussied up in camo and hunter orange.  They sat ranged about the room, rifles supported against knees, their faces a spate of gloom and doom.  Several of them also balanced mugs of hot coffee, thanks to Chris’ hospitality.  They spoke in low tones, commiserating about how anybody could possibly decide to go out singing, on the first day of buck season—the high point of the year.

Drawn from all around the compass, they had stopped in to complain about all those songs that had surely chased every buck from Ritchie County into the neighboring jurisdiction.  I stammered an apology, my face crimson, explaining that nobody had warned me about the start of hunting season.  Those men, gentlemen all, forgave me.  One went on to compliment me on my version of Amazing Grace.  No wonder I had not heard any rifle shots.  The deer had departed back at “Somewhere over the rainbow.”  And then the hunters, too, drained their mugs and took off to see if there might be a laggard deer—somewhere.

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Not Quite Bright

My mother, Mary Opal, knew me all too well.  She often reminded me to behave and act right or people would think I was not-quite-bright.  I must have been a murmuration of tics and Tourette’s gesticulations.  Else why would she have kept reminding me non-stop to quit what I was doing that had no verifiable purpose and just sit still?  Maybe I had ADHD, but nobody got accused of such things in the 40’s.  I remember how boring everything always seemed.  I would do something unusual, and suddenly things weren’t bland anymore.  Needing to understand what was happening all around me led to the string of what, where, when, and why questions that propelled Mommy to distraction.

Now every present day calls me to account for what I don’t know.  And now that I am ageing, what I don’t know is keeping company with what I have forgotten.  Pretty soon I will truly be not-quite-bright.  Mommy would be proud of herself, were she still around to acknowledge her quite-rightness.

I love to watch the Rachel Maddow Show and wish I could remember everything she tells me, but why should I castigate myself for not remembering her every word?  Even back in school, I had to take notes to make A’s.  Why should current learning be any different?  Being a visual/photographic learner, I have begun taking notes between nine and ten o’clock on Monday evenings.  Rachel knows what’s important.  I can trust her to rustle up those factual dogies and pen them up for revisitatation.  Get along, little dogie’s. Get along. Whoopee ti yi yo.  Liz, Wyoming will be your new home. Woopee ti yi yay.

Last night, for instance, I learned what Dred Scott was about.  I have heard that name mentioned ever since grade school, but have never been sufficiently curious to look it up and find out that he was a slave who sued his dead master’s family for his own freedom since he had been relocated from a slave state to a free one.  He lost that case years later due to a Supreme Court Chief Justice who was verifiably not-quite-bright.  The Honorable Roger Taney ruled that Scott had no standing since he was a black man, and was not a citizen, nor could he ever be, since as an American of African descent he was not a citizen of these United States.  That was in 1857, long after the Missouri Compromise of 1820 set up the slave state/free state screwball inhumanity.  I was even motivated to Google the Missouri Compromise as follows: 

The Missouri Compromise was United States federal legislation that stopped northern attempts to forever prohibit slavery’s expansion by admitting Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state in exchange for legislation which prohibited slavery in the remaining Louisiana Purchase lands north of the 36°30′ parallel except for Missouri. The 16th United States Congress passed the legislation on March 3, 1820, and President James Monroe signed it on March 6, 1820. (Wikipedia)

I had managed to let such vital information slide by, sadly unlearned since grade school, when no doubt, it was taught to students who were willing to lend an ear.  I always thought history was boring, and can remember snoozing, head planted on desk, while ocular migraine attacks paraded mysterious geometric shapes through my inner fields of vision.  No wonder everything else seemed boring. 

Word games were fun, since they involved what I believed to be friendlies.  It was great fun to teach them to my own children from a young age.  Scrabble became our favorite family pastime.  Dale, my eldest, and I agreed that I would never lie to him and pretend to lose just to make him feel good.  More than enough truth was part of my world view even then.  If and when he finally bested me, it would be a real win, not a ruse.  He spent much of his youth, and indeed ever since, filling out crossword puzzles.  His favorite ones were from the New York Times Sunday edition.  Crossword puzzle dictionaries filled one whole shelf of his bookcase.  He got to be freaky good at crosswords, but I could still beat him at Scrabble. 

Then a few years ago, sitting down with him for another round of our favorite contest, I was ready, yet again, to kick butt, but suddenly it crept into my mind that age just might make a difference.  Dale won.  Without the self-assurance of sure-to-win, I could think only what if I lose?  But we kept playing.  After several layouts, that I dispatched more wretchedly with each attempt, I had to admit that I had created a monster—a Scrabble player who could tear me to shreds.  We put the board away, and I didn’t suggest any word games for months that turned into years.  Other family members commiserated, assuring me that they too had sworn off playing with a guy who could never, ever, be bested.

It wasn’t until last year when I visited Dale, who was disconsolate over losing work-time since his mail delivery vehicle had blown its transmission.  He was waiting for West Virginia—someday we’ll-get-around-to-it style—reconstruction.  He was stuck at home earning no bucks and muttering about mechanics who had only square to-it’s.  I decided to risk playing Scrabble just this once.  After all, he needed a picker-upper.  Of course he won.  Resisting the inevitable anxiety attack, I tried again.  It was interesting and even fun playing once again.  Accepting that winning would be unlikely if not impossible, I could relax and just have fun.  Each game showed a little improvement, and by the time I left for home, I had almost managed to tie him.  I wonder if I could have done that had he not been in a blue funk over his transport dilemma.

Most fascinating of all was what I learned about how a human cerebrates in competition.  Mind-set is everything.  Sitting down thinking I was sure to win made winning predictable.  The opposite was true if I feared losing, which made losing near certain.  Recalling a lifetime of being sure that as a girl I would surely be inept at arithmetic, how could I ever have been any different than number challenged?  No wonder I hated arithmetic but adored Algebra.  I loved letters but feared numbers.

At TRW soaking up my happy time as CAD jockey, all was well unless another jock stood behind me, curious to see how I did what I did.  “Please don’t watch,” I begged.  “I can’t think if you watch.”  The voyeur smirked, then moved on, satisfied at having broken my spell, and went back to pilot his own workstation.  Back in grade school when I finally decided learning might be interesting, it was because certain subjects made me happy.  Science facts were tied to the father who might love me if I related to his subject.  Music was the sure fire way to satisfy a Mother who had named me after her favorite song-bird, Jeanette McDonald.  We remember things that are fixed in memory by intensity of feeling, whether good or bad.  Thrashing about in remembrance looking for items worthy of memoir, it is always the frightful ones that jump up and offer themselves to inscription.  A smart girl would have figured out a way around such stupidity.  Being not quite bright, I just kept on keeping on and didn’t have the good sense to give up or rebel.  Having never rebelled, at 84 I must be a delayed pubescent, just getting around to figuring things out and becoming who, in the wacky order of things, I surely am.

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Honest Apples

One of the first things I learned, when I went to visit my West Virginia Aunt Winnie, was how best to bake apples.  It wasn’t her recipe but belonged to the woman who ran the dairy farm down the river and a hayfield away.  One day when exploring the wooded paths that roughly connected the two farmsteads, I came out into a clearing, not exactly clear but covered with a tangle of blackberry canes.  The farm wife was there with her bucket, harvesting the plump juicy fruit that nearly filled it.  She said “Hi,” offered me a handful to taste, and suggested I join her in the berry patch.  I picked some but wasn’t as fast as she.  Besides I ate most of what I plucked.  “You hungry?” she queried.  I shook my head no, but she knew better.  “It’s time for lunch,” she announced, and breezed her way to a shady spot under a cottonwood tree along the riverbank.  She pulled a couple of wrapped apples from her poke and handed me one.  “Eat it,” she said.  “I never eat two anyway.”

Yet a teen with a ravenous appetite, I did as I was told.  It was still a time when portable food was wrapped in waxed paper, and as I tore it away a lovely sight was revealed.  There in my hand sat a “Golden Apple of the Sun” gleaming with succulence and dripping  a tiny bit with the buttered spicy brown sugar sweetness that packed its center.  It wasn’t naked but came dressed with a cap of crunchy graham cracker goodness that topped off the whole thing like a crispy hat.  “Yyyyyyessss,” I breathed, sinking teeth into it.  That was my first bite of a confection that was to become the favorite of the kinder I would bear to this friendly woman’s handsome son during the years that followed.  Her name was Garnet Taylor.  She and her husband, Ray Rex, owned and operated the Taylor Family Dairy at the head of Taylor Hollow, where the only thing that passed on through was Hughes River.  It was definitely Taylor country into which I had stumbled that day.  It was a good day, and the apple was a marvel.  It soon disappeared, leaving only a smile.

Garnet explained how to create them.  “Find six well-shaped green apples.  Golden Delicious is what these are.  Granny Smith will make them a little more tart.  Crumble twelve regular graham crackers—not them-there honeyfied ones—and mix in a solid-pressed half-cup of brown sugar, two level-teaspoons of ground cinnamon, and two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.  Don’t mess it up with fake fluid from that little green bottle they label “Real-lemon.”  Then add a quarter cup of real honest-to-God butter.  If you use store-bought, that’ll be half a stick.  If you put in oleo, that’s what it’ll taste like.  Don’t ever fake a recipe.  It tells the truth just like you do when you look at me and I can see you have a good soul.  And don’t peel the apples.  They need those skins for integrity just like we all do.  That means you need to wash them good with Dawn.

“Mix up the whole mess and poke it into the apples.  You’ll fill up the holes where the cores used to be before you cut them out to make space for something better.  If there is too much, just mound little caps to cover the tops.  Then bake all six in an open pan at 375 degrees until they are just right.  Cook too long and they will get all mushy—just long enough and you can wrap them up and send them as a surprise along with the hay harvester’s lunches.”

Like almost everything Garnet ever told me, she was right. My kiddos loved this portable dessert and looked forward to it for many years added to school lunches, even after we left the farm and went to sort out the real world.  It was, like all our many remembered recipes, a piece of the old times we love to recall.  The oven summons it back with the true odors of butter, mixing it up with cinnamon being all it was ever meant to be, and it will be you making it happen once again.

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A Taste of Salt

Here we are again.  Sleeping.  Dreaming.  Getting ready for who knows what.  Nobody is saying, but here we are.  Mary, my long dead mother is central to whatever is underway.  Not as if she is calling shots or knows the strategy involved, but she is determined to be there, and do it there in my dream.  Water is a player.  It does what water always does, buoys, supports, lubricates, terrifies.  Then it provides a common denominator that cannot be denied.  It is the obverse of salt.

Suddenly I am in the water, sinking, fearing lack of breath.  Mary is already there, abandoned to the depths.  I must save her.  I find a fruited kelp on the seabed and put it to her lips.  She tastes of the salt, and that makes the difference.  With that sentient taste of truth, she knows that she can breathe the water.  All that is needed is to inhale and have faith.

With that knowledge in tow I dive, pluck my own salty fruit, bite it with loving abandon and breathe.  Then I understand that I too have died.  That’s all that was needed—to know that death was the salt that answered my prayer and gave permission to draw a different kind of breath.  My mother is helping me to make that frightening transition, and this repeating dream is rehearsal for what is sure to come and soon.

But then I woke to another day—a real day—showered off the sleep, and pointed my 2009 Equinox to the rising sun.  My wheels and I set off to stage a visit with my eldest son, the rural mail carrier in “Almost Heaven” West Virginia.  State Route 32 didn’t disappoint.  The eighteen-wheelers who have finally discovered its quiet charms mostly behaved, and the drive was pleasant, even shared with the roaring behemoths and their necessary loads.  Dale seemed pleased to greet my safe arrival, and the Memorial Day weekend began apace. 

His big surprise was his new toy, a monster he called a “side-by-side.”  I later found out that it had a proper name, being Kawasaki TERYX 1000.  Google hacked it up, and there it was, mimicking the real thing.  The mechanism seemed almost totally given over to suspension, with each wheel totally isolated and on its own to sort out gravity.  No matter how uneven the terrain, all four wheels maintain ground contact and traction.  He backed it out of its garage and didn’t ask if I was up to a ride.  He just said, “Climb in.”

I did.  There was even a seatbelt.  Country folk don’t believe in helmets, so I committed to the necessary reality of wind sorting hair. Dale translated into the skeletal velocipede, and the savvy suspension dealt with the startling differential between our body weights.  No problem.  Then my head snapped back to impact the high seat-back, and it was full speed ahead—up, down, and around wherever pointed and gassed.  We were a noisy blur of Kawasaki green and black that went by fast—like come and gone. It was fun and more than exhilarating, but then he said, “I want to show you something.”  We clamber-rolled straight at a near vertical eight foot embankment and crunched to a stop with the beast’s nose poking right at the grassy wall.

“So?  Now what?” I croaked.

“Watch!” he said and flashed me a Dale grin.  A change of gear and it was straight up the bank.  No grinding,  hesitating, or slipping.  Just up, up, up, over, and away.  Then he charged into the woods at speed, whipping in and out between trees, scaling forested hills with no concession to the vagaries of terrain, skirting the edges of cliffs as we assaulted the pristine beauty of the Appalachian woodland.  That was when I caught a passing enlightenment.  I didn’t want to die.  I wasn’t ready.  Not yet.

“Be careful!” I squalled.  “I’m too young to die!”  I had thought that I had had enough of this getting old stuff, and any morning I didn’t wake up would be just fine.  But now I know better.  When rocking along the edge of a cliff-side aerie and facing the possibility of immanent extinction, I’m not ready.  There’s too much on my do-list.  A trip to Dale’s mountain hideaway is always good for putting things into perspective.  Breathing salt water with my sainted mother’s ghost will have to wait.  I’ve got a lot more living to do.

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I, Eye, Aye

The gaze between persons is powerful.  I have watched it work as human persons process the possibilities of relating.  Because my mother taught me well how to read her eyes and face, I am adept at reading others’ faces.  I look at you and see you looking at me.  There is a lock.  I read your feelings, as I feel my feelings, now the products of our interactive gaze.  You read my feelings.  I read you, reading me, reading you, reading me—all the way to infinity.  There is bottomless depth in a gaze, like two mirrors reflecting between each other in endless imaging.  I am changed by what I see in your eyes.  I see that you perceive me to be an interesting, perhaps even capable, person.  I am inspired to become an even more interesting and more capable person.  You read my feelings of happiness and interest and appreciation and decide to like me.  I see that you read me, and I feel even happier.  You see my happiness and I see yours.  We are pregnant with each other’s happiness.  There is mutuality.  That’s how strangers become friends.

Beyond acknowledgement of gaze is its analysis.  Gaze is a combination of eyes plus surround.  A naked eye is only a stare.  Humans are revolted by stare.  They feel assaulted—visually raped.  A stare is looking without any softening hint of expression.  Nothing is as repulsive as an eyeball extracted from its socket and positioned on a neutral surface poised to watch—watch you.  It is a metaphor of perfect irony.  It sees nothing; in seeing nothing it sees everything. Contemplation of a naked eyeball makes it easy to understand how it’s the surround that defines nuance.  The soft texture of the face is a subtle canvas that offers as much to human apperception as does the rainbow of smell to the articulate nose of a dog.

What can be read in a face is mostly about the shape shifting of soft tissue, which explains why humans are so repulsed by the less-than-loving gaze of an insect.  The Praying Mantis is a favorite due to its fortuitous posture, not its soulful expression.  The common housefly, so universally hated, carries a cap of many eyes that see in all directions, wary of incipient swatters and wanting only to evade the precipitous denouement of the splat.  There is no facial nuance to accompany its approach to survival.  It’s all live; let-live is immaterial.

Bare skin is best constituted to convey expression.  Tender thin tissue that surrounds the eye most closely is associated with the gentle tension of “concern.”  It is there, waiting to be accessed by observing eyes—eyes that “want to know.”  The eyelids are less subtle but equally articulate.  They tighten with suspicion and report wariness.  While a dog, with its whole body covering of hair, excepting the occasion of raised hackles, is more circumspect about tissue tension projecting concern, the movement of human eyelids is near central for all to see and interpret.  Brows, whether bare or hirsute, contribute much to expression.  It’s easy to read “suspicion” in canine brow elevation.  It might even be underscored by a not-so-friendly growl.  Elevating both brows evinces surprise, while one brow lifted suggests a question is brewing at the center of things.  Our hoity-toity word “supercilious,” i.e. above the hair, speaks to a single brow raised in suggested irony.

Moving outward from the windows of the soul, nose sniffs ambient air and offers backup to lid and brow statements.  An odd odor twitches the nose while a cheek might lift to suggest something is perhaps amiss.  Even the chin gives a little jump to underscore the supposition.  If an odor is approachable but still ill-defined, the nares will expand; an indication that what is smelled is not wonderful but is not totally repulsive.  A deeper inhalation might resolve the thing entire.  All this activity is there to interpret for watchers who have eyes to see.

Mouth is second only to eyes as great communicator.  Not only does it conjure endless auditory signals but modifies its very shape to indicate whatever feeling accompanies what is being said.  So much is it utilized that its physical shape is literally formed by a lifetime of function.  Drawing lips back baring teeth advertises aggression as readily as it expresses sheer happiness.  No wonder mammals are confused in their communication.  Lips that self-posture in a petulant purse are seldom asked to express generosity of feeling.  Odd labial arrangements, such as the confusion of the Trump mouth, forever memorialized on Saturday Night Live, are excellent examples of this description.  The mouth is being used to advertise openness, while its corners are drawn up, completely at cross-purposes to what is portrayed, while the jaw, usually relaxed as an indicator of open honesty, in the Trump jaw is firmly clenched.  Who could believe any word that escapes from such a mouth? 

Even beyond the head, the entire body acts as a surround for the eyes, as meaning is conveyed—eloquently in some cases—not so much in others.  A speaker juggling the need to move on and dodge annoying questions, often conveys more than intended as hands paint an irrefutable picture of ”just wanting to move on—for God’s sake—why are you bothering me?”  Hands can say even as much as eyes and mouth.  They are supremely articulate, especially when the presenter is intelligent, sensitive, and insightful.  That makes a spectacular triumvirate of expression. 

Otherwise brilliant politicians sometimes suffer when their great policy ideas are derailed by wacky arm and hand gesticulations, waved amid calls for voter support not likely to be achieved.  Eyes that don’t give in to even an occasional blink are suspected of being just a bit too crazed to lead men.  Listeners who overdo eye-contact to the extent that the orator is put off by their gaze do a disservice to the orator.  Speakers do best heard by quiet balanced audiences who evidence interest in the subject but exhibit no involvement in the presenter as individual.  But politics is crazy; that’s a given.  I adore Elizabeth Warren as a policy wonk but fear giving her my vote.  Nowhere is reading of eyes and faces as important as in electoral politics.  How else are we to decide whom to elect?

Mankind has always feared the evil eye, inspiring cultish need to fight its power, never to express fervor of devotion.  There is no religion boasting of devotees dedicated to the eye’s worship and adoration, yet there is no protective fetish more ubiquitous than the one that promises to ward off its evil.  Traveling throughout Turkey, I saw everywhere items for sale warranted to protect the owner from its gaze.  A favorite fabric pattern displays a field of endless eyes—a universe of seeing.  These items are so well-accepted that they are an intrinsic part of the culture, bought and sold as near-currency.

Reading people’s eyes and faces can be discomfiting to subjects of such scrutiny.  Assuming we know what another is feeling is the ultimate arrogance.  Others pass through their days expecting to be fairly circumspect behind natural defenses.  Maybe blind would be better.  I am juggling several nasty ophthalmological diagnoses.  Maybe one of them could make me into a nicer person.  Who knows?

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Misbehaving

As a new resident of Blue Ash and trying to immerse myself in all the arts and culture it was advertised to afford, I was attending a summer concert in the park across from my senior apartment.  It was swanky to be able to just walk across Kenwood from my front door and enjoy symphonic performance.

Much later, walking home with the strains of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture still ringing in my ears, I allowed myself a touch of mania.  It was all just too wonderful.  I stopped to pull a stray weed from the flowerbed at the building entrance.  This was my home even if technically a communal residence to house elders.  I felt obliged to share in its care and upkeep.  Why should I not pull weeds and pick up bits of trash that were a part of a lived-in residence?  That same thinking led to my assessment of the look of the front entrance.  Having for many years done architectural design back in California, I was ever aware of appearance, a building’s beauties vs its flaws.  We were still fighting the frustrations of Covid, and I hated all that, especially the scruffy signs posted with an eye to keeping us old people alive and contributing to a functioning economy. Sure enough, right there on the front entrance, obscuring the well-executed plate glass design of the foyer, were two identical 8½ x 11’s instructing me to wear my mask.  These were the same copies that graced the mail-room, the elevator, and the laundry.  I was so very tired of seeing them, especially in duplicate, that I ripped one off the glass and stuffed it in my pocket.  I felt an instant remorse, but what’s done is done.  At least it looked better.  Back in my apartment, I disposed of the wad of paper, the weed, and the scraps of trash I had picked up from the parking area on the way into the building.

That should have been the end of that, but it wasn’t.  The next day there was a knock on my apartment door.  When opened, it revealed an irate building manager wanting to know why I had removed a posting from her front entrance.  How did she know?  I had returned from the concert at near midnight.  There was absolutely nobody that could have witnessed my dastardly deed.  But they had.  “Why,” she pressed.

“It was a duplicate and was obscuring our lovely entrance glass,” was all I could offer as explanation.  It was honest truth.  I didn’t apologize, but promised to never again tinker with management postings.  I have kept my word, trying hard to not think of the common areas as extensions of my premises where I might entertain the lovely delusion of ownership, no matter how well-intended.  It is good to know that I live in a building that is protected by hidden cameras that can catch scurrilous intruders as well as residents in the act of rule violation.  I am a model tenant, having programmed my rent to be electronically paid on its due date and making sure to perform well for camera recording at all times in all common areas.  The thought crossed my mind that a landlord so enamored of cameras might place one or two inside my apartment, but I dismissed the concept as delusional.  Claims of perfection can’t be asserted, however, because I was once taken to task for attending a social group meeting in my stocking feet, a violation of rules.  The entire building interior is carpeted and seemed to me to be “home.”  I was in error.  Also I learned that I must be totally and completely dressed as to appear in public before exiting my domicile.  I fanaticize about the excitement of throwing on a robe to cover my L.L.Bean pj’s and dashing down the hall to move wash load to dryer.  It’s just a dream.  I’ll never do it, but its fun to titillate my fright zone.  I’m too superannuated to get evicted for improper haberdashery in my apartment residence hallway.  That would be bothersome, and it’s not fair to ask my sons and grandsons to move me yet again just because I can’t behave.

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Love and Marriage

Human mating is something that nobody understands.  I suspect there are as many hypotheses concerning the subject as there are questing minds that consider copulation of our binary species.  I dread turns of conversation which require me to confess I have been three times married and divorced.  This exposes the conservative underbelly of my nature that I do my best to deny and conceal.  In the hidden heart of my world view, man and woman were meant to love one another.  The best people are the ones who can enjoy one long and healthy marriage.

My inability to live up to that value must mean that I am inept at selecting a man who just might keep me forever-after happy.  I blame myself for this dilemma, since I have reliably been the one to end marriages.  My husbands have been, if not blissful, at least willing to declare the coupling viable and to keep on keeping on; it was always I who wanted out.  My three choices were excellent examples of good decent men, ill-matched with a well-meaning woman who just didn’t quite understand how things were supposed to work.

First there was James Charles Taylor, a West Virginia farm boy who joined the Navy to see the world.  A stateside leave for his ship’s company coincided with a trip to hillbilly country for me, during my high school rising-senior summer vacation.  I played at being Daisy Mae on a neighboring farm, while a guest of my step-mother’s aunt and uncle.  I was no stranger to farm life, having visited every summer with my paternal grandparents on three-hundred or so gentlemanly tilled and pastured acres west of Ft. Worth.  Cluck-clucking neighbor farm wives wasted no time introducing James and me, and soon a well-worn path through scrub brush wound its way along the river bend that demarcated the two farmsteads.

It was an enjoyable summer for both James and me.  I knew enough about the charms of rural life to preclude being terrified, and actually enjoyed being allowed to help with chores on both the dairy farms.  Jim was certifiably handsome, with his hay-harvest tan and authentic muscles acquired pitching bales and wrestling livestock.  I devoured the attention of a boy who seemed to think I was even a little bit pretty, unlike my dorky classmates back at school who resented being bested at math and science by a girl.  All that was left behind in snooty Westport, and Jim didn’t even know that I, with my penchant for trying too hard at everything scholarly, was probably the least popular girl in my school.

There was the hint of fireworks between us, but it was 1954, and one thing our divergent cultures shared was strict moral codes.  It wasn’t until the night before my departure, having staked out a private spot on the grassy hill overlooking the Fourth of July small-town fireworks display, that we explored the possibilities of a smooch. It was my first time to really kiss a boy without valid intercession from a party crowd and a spun bottle.  We parted, I to prep for college, he to fulfill his commitment to the US Navy.

Then halfway through my first year at Carnegie Tech, my father’s business went bankrupt, and I completed the year by re-upping for the debt myself.  My stepmother filed for divorce, and Daddy was staying in a serial progression of motel rooms, so I had nowhere to go.  Recalling the charms of West Virginia, I crawled to Aunt Winnie’s to clean house, cook, milk cows, and make commercial butter in the mornings; I learned to drive tractor, harvest hay, and work the garden in the afternoons.  Evenings were for reading and writing letters to Jim.  Ever since that idyllic summer vacation, he and I had corresponded.  When, months after a maiming shipboard accident he proposed by air mail from Portsmouth Naval Hospital, I accepted.  I was horror-struck, but what kind of person would have said no?

That was husband number one.  Number two was an equally twisted choice.  At Varo, Static Power Division, I was working as a production engineer.  Since the product being manufactured was an electrical device, the electrical engineering department called most of the shots.  Electrical engineers were the top of the heap.  Mechanical and manufacturing engineers were just a bit less in that work environment.  It’s odd to experience how power stacks people up in an organization.  With my recently completed BS in Divisional Science, I was a lowly also-ran, with a crush on Varo’s Electrical Engineering’s resident genius, Brian McGuinness, who looked so much like my dad it was weird.  While I chased him, Larry Duker chased me.  Larry liked to lean out his office door when I walked down the hall and ogle my retreating passage.  It was the legs.  He admired the gams, built from hiking West Virginia hills in search of errant cattle and pirouetting on green hilltops.  I noticed the attention and paid him enough credence to find out that he was tech savvy.  He knew a mountain about the nuts and bolts of electrical enclosure design, and I soon began to spend time with him just to pick his brain.  Larry had his own problem with credentialing.  He hadn’t finished college, but had joined the Navy, not to see the world, but to decide what to do with his considerable talent.  He had been coasting on his own brilliance.  US Navy in-service testing sent him to technical school immediately, advancing on completion to the highest rank possible without holding a university degree.  He finally mustered out as Chief Petty Officer, honorably discharged.  Then he went to work as an engineer—a good one— but without a university degree his pay was chicken scratch.

When he asked me to go out, I said no, but later agreed to just one Saturday and only the  afternoon.  He picked me up in his MG Midget to the delight of my sons Dale (10) and Lane (6).  They were all over him with demands to go for a spin in his red hot convertible.  They got their ride, and then they began pestering me to marry its owner.  That was nuts!  I refused and remonstrated in every direction, but then we began singing soprano-tenor duets on my apartment balcony after the kids went to bed, and slowly all the parts of our friendship began to adjust to each other.  It felt natural to snuggle into Larry’s tutelage, truly valuing his mind and his ability to share knowledge.  Larry was a born teacher.  We married, but even after such an auspicious beginning, things devolved—a sad and tawdry ending. 

I was triply careful with respect to choosing husband number three.  Eleven years my senior, he fit the pattern of father obsession, Kenneth Howard Ibsen was a brilliant researcher at University of California Irvine Medical School.  His subject was biochemistry, MD candidate’s most challenging area of study.  In spite of the frightful nature of his subject matter, students every year voted him top medical school professor.

I would have never noticed Dr. Ibsen had I not attended a Parents Without Partners extravaganza one night at the Irvine Community Center.  Two hundred or so upwardly mobile, yet viable but romantically unaffiliated, heterosexual adults gathered to hear about the wonders of the Kiersy Temperament Sorter.  Everybody grabbed a test, checked the requisite boxes, and waited for instructions.  Boxes totaled and cross-referenced scored me an “intuitive feeler”—and at the dizzying apex of that scale.  So what does that mean?  The leader pointed to the four echoing corners of the gargantuan ballroom, assigning to each a definitive personality type.  Then she asked everybody to gather in the quadrant that matched their scored personality.  The entire assemblage clotted in three of the quadrants while only Kenneth Howard Ibsen and Dorothy Jeanette Martin stood, a solitary couple in the fourth, exchanging phone numbers.  The rest is an exercise in the obvious—as well as the oblivious.  The brochure’s fine print suggested that people would do well to choose partners of complimentary traits, not matching ones.  Hardly anybody read the fine print.

Traits aside, I seemed to prefer men with gargantuan problems.  Ken fit that bill.  He was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a genetic defect that caused the sclera of his eyes to glow blue and the cartilage of his entire body to disintegrate.  Mercifully the male organ is not in the least cartilaginous, so paternity boded well.  He had spent most of his childhood in an adult hospital ward waiting for assorted bones to heal.  As soon as he would be declared good to go, he was out and about, but then the next fracture would land him back on his back in his favorite hospital.  Luckily, he had a mild case of OI so that he didn’t suffer the usual grotesqueries but only matured as shorter than his genes would normally have been expressed.  Instead of 6’-4”, like the men in his family, he stood only 5’-6.”

Spending all that time in bed with books, and verbally jousting adult intellects had the obvious developmental effect.  Ken was bright and articulate.  He chose biochemistry to study and researched OI for his dissertation.  For many years he enjoyed the status of being that genetic anomaly’s leading expert.  His personal position at the nexus of the problem no doubt contributed to his notoriety.  Who wanted, after all, to challenge such a position?  Googling “Kenneth H. Ibsen,” alas, still brings up numerous scholarly articles tagging Osteogenesis Imperfecta, but fewer ones concerning his research and invention of the first chemical marker published for breast cancer.  OI is more fascinating than breast cancer.

When Ken got around to calling me, he suggested a meal at what was my favorite Japanese dinner house.  We met there and began sizing each other up.  He was passably good-looking in a professor sort of way, was fantastically well educated, and was a certified expert in my favorite subject—biochemistry.  I swooned!  Unlike most guys, he didn’t hold forth loudly mansplaining all the things the little woman must surely not understand.  He looked at me with those deep intelligent eyes and liked what he saw.  It was reciprocal.  He answered my questions to the level of my understanding, just like my father always had—a dear deep drink of cool water.  He handed me the menu and said, “Order anything you want.”  I trusted him and asked for a romantic steak for two that would be cooked tableside on sizzling rocks and divided between us by a lady in a kimona.  It was the start of something intense.  He told me later that I was the only date who had dared to order any but the least expensive entrée, hoping to be seen as a cheap date who might extrapolate into an economical wife.  Ken felt like home to me.  I had finally met a man I could admire and honor.  I must have cast him in God-like proportions, since when finally he proved himself to share the frailty of men the world over, I was affronted and disappointed.

Three, they say, is the charm.  Who am I to argue?  It has long been apparent that dreaming the thing is what casts the spell.  The building of it is where it disappoints.  A stupid tactic prattles about what glory waits as future amazement.  Better it is to hold a silent happiness to your breast until you make it an actual thing that can be seen and wondered at.  Otherwise it becomes an obligation to perform and mayhap disappoint.  The energy to create takes its vigor from the shivering delight of possibility.  Actuality rips that to shreds. What is, is, and can never return to the giggly dream of what if.

I have learned to faux consummate the bliss of marriage bed, a recent example being my repeated trysts with that scruffy old coot Eustice Conway.  I’m not the first to image the smooth softness of buckskin trousers against bare shaven leg.  Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a whole book about what it is to be The Last American Man.  I can taste the honey dripping off her tongue as she describes his twenty-something lithe body, what it can do, how, and why not.  Now I must have my daily fix of Mountain Man on INSP cable.  Eustice teaches me some wonderful new thing every day, something I can use if I get stranded in a winter wood and need to keep on living to mark another sunrise.

The worst thing of all would be to stumble into Eustace alongside that snowy track and have to follow him home where he would, no doubt, expect me to perc up a pot of camp coffee, and like Yentl, darn his socks.  No—I prefer the Eustice of my imaginings, burly, bright, and beautiful, rising to every occasion and ready to plug the gaps in my own woodland understandings with his own twice lived lore.  If he’s the man I think he is, he would darn his own socks with a carved bone needle or conjure a new pair out of deer gut casings.

The best aspect of such matrimony is that the Mother Church holds no purview over its enchantment.  No priest is required to bless the soft pine boughs of my marriage bed.  The cleric must articulate his unique thesaurus of delights.  Mine is mine alone—and maybe Eustace’s—if I can sort out proprieties, tenses, and logistics, not to mention pronouns: him/her, his/mine.  Like MMWG’s Michael Kelly, Eustace Conway is out to save the world.  I hope they succeed so Volodymyr Zelenskyy can live another day to glorify Ukraine and for me to dance all twitter pated about his triumph, after I achieve some polite disposition of Putin’s cold, stiff, and silent carcass—the one I dispatched in my head.  Should his corpus face the rising glory of the sun or the vivid beauty of its setting?  Is six feet an adequate depth, or would six miles be a safer more satisfying distal measure?  Dream up your own shovel.  Mine is already firm in hand.

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Grambo Awakes

On a road trip with a group of women.  They were bored of me.  I decided to take off on my own, and wanted to make a case for myself with a bright idea.  I dyed millet seeds red and green, gave each color a discrete electrostatic charge, and blew it all into the wind, where it sought its proper place in the charged design I had hung in the air.  It made floating art, much like the trailing messages pulled by airplanes over wildly populated beaches and other crazily attended venues in the twentieth century of this planetary habitation.  When it tired of itself, like I often did of me being me, and fell to the ground, it seeded millet, a whole new round of greenery for the habitat to enjoy.

Then I took off for home and a new round of fanciful doings.  Why should I, having learned so much and lived so long, just give up and reconcile myself to being old?  There is too much to do, and I have nothing left but time.  I might as well have some fun.  By the way, what did the sign say?  “GRAMBO AWAKES.”

That was what I did in my dreams the night of January 21, 2022.  What I did when indeed I awoke the next morning was to remember what I had written back in 2011.  I hopped on my Microsoft Pavillion and kicked it into sentient service.  There it was!

~ ~ ~ Grambo ~ ~ ~

What the world needs is a wonder-woman.  Her name will be Grambo.  The challenge is to create a superhero based, not on a mild-mannered male with a penchant for lurking in telephone booths, but on a gloriously mature female of the species, who is coincidentally a mother of three, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother still catching and counting.  Once a geeky kid, now an old lady, who still gets off on learning, she at last fits together the collective insights of a lifetime into her very own theory of everything.  Making a place for herself in traditional science and engineering seems at last irrelevant to her understanding of what’s what.  As she is presented with heroic challenges, she meets them with passion, intuition, and grace.  Long a trail-breaker in fields of male endeavor, turning over every rock and cow pie, questioning absolutely everything, she confronts the strictures of psychological assessment, trying to give delusions of grandeur a good name.  Always ahead of her time, she struggles with peer derision, self-doubt, and the tyranny of the normal.  She obviously has something interesting going on.  Slowly it becomes clear that it is simply what every ovarian human has in her personal tool-chest.  She is fully, unapologetically  female.  She celebrates using both sides of her brain that dance a consistent do-si-do, her corpus callosum providing a robust bridge for cross-talk.  She decides to prove that women, far from being the weaker sex, are in many ways the stronger.  Having spent nearly a lifetime wishing she were good enough, she discovers that she and her sisters are actually on the path to becoming the wise ones.  Armed with this empowerment, she leads women to redeem the men in their lives as they, finally in true partnership, move the species toward a new way to walk in beauty and balance.

Along the way, she will experience all the afflictions of age and meet them with humor, wisdom, and courage.  Joint replacements will be greeted as blessings of technology, leading to bionic inevitability.  When she finally must accept a wheelchair, it will be a jet-powered one that she rides like a wheeled steed that leaps tall buildings leaving a con-trail of haiku verse. Afflicted with the dementia of age, she in a last gasp of creativity will write a computer program that extends her viable intellect far into a functioning future of otherwise Q-signified oblivion. Death is anticipated and accepted.  She pre-writes her own obituary and designs a funerary event for the ages, wherein family is cherished, consoled, and challenged, and her grand adventure is memorialized, tongue stuck in cheek and fire stoked in belly.

This should be good for a long run of sequelae and will surely be snapped up by Paramount for a run of feature films, complete with action figures, toys, and video game franchises.  Grambo will at long last rest in peace, but not before she haunts multiple generations of progeny with reminders to follow Nike’s winning slogan; “Just Do It”.

                                                                    * * *

When first I became a grandmother, I was freaked by the whole proposition.  I agreed to the job, but only if I could have a title that guided me and my excellent progeny to a whole and healthy understanding of what it means to be an exemplary matriarch.  We shook on it.  Lissa, Brianna, and Jimmy were to address me as Grambo, or I kept on reading.  Remington and Gunner followed.  Then there was Jackson and Daisy (recently changed to Archer, a name she decided would be less limiting to her capabilities).  I have high hopes for this army of Grambo’s Grands.

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Advent Blessing

Life breaks me open.

The I am must be known.

Too quiet is this solitude.

Thoughts yearn to speak,

but image meaning      

in my world alone,

where all in quiet waits,

clear as star straked sky,

all questing answered

in compassionate reply,

snowflakes of forgiveness

that slake the coals of rage.

*

Know me God.  I live.

Conserve what truth is me.

Enfold me. Hold me.

Let anguish steal away,

with blessing part,

for sorrow, my old friend

cannot but be missed.

What will keep me then,

when sadness slips away?

Grief has been my constant,

my anchor, and my stay.

*

And yet…

*

Is there an Advent halo

circling my heart?

Breath of baby Jesus?

Blessings from a byre?

Caress of maiden mother

smoothing silken brow?

All reach across the aching years

and bid me also laugh and live.

*

It must be bells of Christmas ringing,

tolling out my name,

mythos cast from melt of years,

happiness distilled from tears.

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